Say what you will, but there are no musicians out there who are so dedicated to keeping their instruments healthy as guitar players are. Even if it’s a cheaper guitar, they’ll get emotionally attached to it and will constantly find ways to keep them safe and fresh. There are important measures to be taken if the guitar has been used intensively for a certain number of years. You may know that refretting can completely revitalize your guitar. But can you wear out stainless steel frets?
They’re definitely the most durable option for fret wires out there. For many years now, guitar players have opted for stainless steel frets. Why? They simply feel indestructible (while some also note they greatly affect the tone of your instrument). But are they really?
Technically, you can wear out anything. That also goes for stainless steel frets that constantly rub off of metal strings.
So yes, you can wear out stainless steel frets. However, they last much longer compared to other types of frets. In fact, they’re so durable that they require you to restring the guitar more often. The strings get worn out easily with stainless steel frets.
But, as it usually goes with everything guitar-related, this requires a more in-depth analysis. Let’s explore the issue of frets and stainless steel frets further and see whether it could work for you.
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The frets on your guitar, or pretty much any guitar today, are made from a specially designed wire. Well, it’s called a wire and it’s technically a wire, but it’s not round. Instead, its profile looks a bit different.
If you were to cut it and look at it from the side, it would look like a screw or a mushroom. The top, or the “crown,” is what you see on the guitar. It’s the part that defines the fret on your guitar and which makes contact with the strings.
Meanwhile, the thin part that goes into the fretboard wood is referred to as “tang.” On its sides, it features studs. These are essentially (in most cases) triangular-shaped parts that are relatively close to one another and that keep the fret wire stuck in its place in the fretboard.
Types of Fret Wire
Fret wire can differ in dimensions. This includes crown width, crown height, tang width, tang height, and stud size. Ultimately, we get different categories known as:
- Medium (or “regular”)
Of course, this is just a rough division and we could get into way more details. Some sources give dozens of different fret wire types depending on their dimensions, shapes, and even materials used. Each has a designated number and the dimensions are expressed using thousands of an inch, just like with string gauge.
But I don’t really feel like getting too geeky, even though I’d enjoy that. In order to explain this, it’s best to keep things simple. Therefore, there are five main types that I’d like to present here. These are the most common fret types according to dimensions.
- Crown width: .078 inches
- Crown height: .043 inches
These are common among some 1950s and 1960s guitars with rounder fretboard radiuses. They’re rarely found on modern-day guitars.
- Crown width: .090 inches
- Crown height: .055 inches
- Crown width: .102 inches
- Crown height: .042 inches
These are a bit unusual and are sometimes referred to as “vintage jumbo frets.” They’re wide but aren’t really that tall, instead of being tall and narrow which many guitar players look for these days.
- Crown width: .106 inches
- Crown height: .036 inches
Although these are also wide and low, they’re way more widespread.6130 frets are popular with Gibson guitars. They make it easy to do all the bending and are considered to be helpful in increasing the instrument’s design.
- Crown width: .110 inches
- Crown height: .055 inches
These are most commonly referred to as “jumbo” frets. They’re both thick and tall.
Fret Wire Types According to Materials
Materials also play an important role in the quality of the frets. With that said, it’s hard to say which material is “better” or “worse.” It just comes down to personal preferences.
These are the three most important materials:
- Nickel silver: Although it has “silver” in its name, there’s no actual silver in it. Essentially, it’s a copper alloy with some nickel in it. The particular variant used for guitar frets has 18% of nickel. Some classical guitars may come with fret wire that has only 12% nickel. Either way, it’s the softest material used for guitar frets and it’s the most common one.
- EVO gold: This is the newest material used for guitar frets. It’s harder than nickel silver, but not as hard as stainless steel. Again, we have “gold” in its name, but it’s actually a mixture of copper, iron, tin, and titanium (aka CuSn15Fe1Ti0.1). It also has its impact on the tone, but not as much as stainless steel.
- Stainless steel: Hardest and the most durable of all fret materials, stainless steel is a very popular option when refretting guitars. It’s also common on new high-end guitars. It also adds a lot of brightness to the tone.
Can You Wear Out Stainless Steel Frets?
So can you really wear out stainless steel frets? Well, you technically can. But you’d need to play a lot every single day, and you’d have to do a lot of restringing. And this process could last for many years before you get any noticeable wear marks.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any particular research done that could tell us exactly how long they last compared to nickel silver frets. But I can confidently say that the difference is immense.
So yes, you can wear out stainless steel frets. However, they last far longer than nickel silver or EVO gold variants. They’re often considered to be a great investment if you’re planning to refret your guitars.
Are Stainless Steel Frets Overrated?
So are stainless steel frets overrated? It depends on who you ask really. Objectively (and subjectively), they’re not overrated. They last longer and they make their impact on the tone. Additionally, their popularity increases year after year. Plenty of luthiers also recommend refretting your guitars with stainless steel fret wire.
But then again, it all comes down to personal preferences and experiences. Choosing the right type of frets for your needs is just like choosing any type of gear or anything else.
With that said, I figured I could clear things up for you with a classic list of pros and cons. Now, bear in mind that some traits can be both advantages and disadvantages depending on your preferences.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Frets
- They’re far more durable than other alternatives. I already explained this. Nothing even compares to them.
- Stainless steel frets change the tone and add more brightness to the mix. This is quite often considered to be an advantage and it makes them really popular among lead guitarists. Flatwound strings are often made out of stainless steel which helps add brightness to their otherwise smoother tone. You can read more about that here.
- They feel much smoother. Like REALLY smooth. It’s incredibly easy to get used to them.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Frets
- Stainless steel fret wire can be a bit more expensive. It’s not catastrophic or anything, but they can be a significant investment if you plan on refretting your guitar.
- Cutting stainless steel fret wire and putting it into a guitar can completely ruin your tools. Even if you’re not doing the job yourself (which is highly likely), this significantly increases the cost of the entire process.
- The replacement process is more difficult and takes more time. This is what you get with a hard material like stainless steel.
- Some players might not prefer the tone and feel of them. This is, however, a personal preference. They might take some getting used to, but some players just don’t like them as they are really smooth, almost “slippery” in a way. You need to be really in control over your playing techniques to execute things properly on a guitar with stainless steel frets. But it’s far from an impossible task.
How Do I Know If My Guitar Needs Refretting?
It’s really simple. If you see that there are significant indents where the strings hit the frets, it’s probably a good idea to refret your instrument. If you also notice intonation issues, then your guitar is in dire need of proper refretting.
Of course, the point where the instrument is almost unplayable is hard to get to. But if you’re not entirely sure, consult a professional musician. Try and avoid luthiers as they’ll almost always tell you to refret as they’re far more sensitive to it and they plan on earning more from doing these things.
Should I Put Stainless Steel Frets on My Guitar?
Honestly, I believe that stainless steel frets are the way to go. If you have a highly valuable instrument, they’re the best possible way to improve its performance. You don’t want cheap frets on an expensive guitar as they can completely ruin performance and sonic qualities.